From Our CEO

Susan Stautberg is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation and also co-founded OnBoard Bootcamp (OBB), an insider’s guide on how to be selected to a corporate, private company, or advisory board director position. The Belizean Grove, also founded by Susan, is a preeminent community and retreat for leading women who share knowledge and connections. tomorrows rising women leaders in TARA, understand the importance of global issues and the network’s core value to share and support each other’s efforts. In her capacity as a corporate and nonprofit director, Susan has served on or created the advisory boards, for numerous organizations including Amex Open, Avis Rent-A-Car, Avon, Bank of America, Bayer Diabetes Care Division, CIGNA, Citigroup, Deutsche Private Bank, Flexjet, Goldman Sachs, Investment New Zealand, KPMG’s Diversity Advisory Board, Merrill Lynch, Medtronic, Northern Trust, Northwestern Mutual, Procter and Gamble, STRATCO Global, Sun Trust/AMA, Swissotel, TIGER 21, and Walmart.

In thinking about WCD’s mission, legacy, and plans for the future, I want to give particular thanks to someone who has been a driver of this organization committed to global diversity: Henrietta Holsman Fore.

Henrietta is, quite simply, one of the most dedicated, respected, and fair individuals I have ever worked with. No one I know has shown greater commitment to opportunity, equality, and human potential around the world. Henrietta has truly made a difference in her commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunity. As our global co-chair, Henrietta helped build WCD into a force to raise women up around the world. In all her work, she has moved mountains to further the equality of women, minorities, and indigenous peoples – not only onto boards of directors, but in every sphere of life.

Henrietta’s integrity is unparalleled, as is her leadership “on the ground.” She has tirelessly traveled around the world to launch WCD chapters and make sure that women directors on all continents can find opportunities to connect with each other and advance best practices in their companies. All of us at WCD can learn from her dedication and her humanity.

As we are undergoing the transition to our new WCD CEO this fall, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Alison Winter, WCD’s founding co-chairman.

Alison, then an executive with Northern Trust, was part of the group of women sitting around my dining room table 17 years ago, when we had a bold idea. We envisioned an organization for women directors who would support each other, share their experiences, and work to get other women on corporate boards. After Alison made a professional move to Chicago for Northern Trust, we expanded our network beyond New York, which led to the idea of establishing different “chapters” around the country. Alison and I became co-chairs of the new organization called “WomenCorporateDirectors.” From there, our membership took off, and soon went global.

Alison was integral to helping WCD become a real, functioning organization and community – giving us structure, a logo, and, always, a mission and strategy for driving us forward. We are indebted to her vision and advocacy, and owe her a world of thanks for setting us up for success from the start.

Thank you Mel Lagomasino and Jill Kanin-Lovers and the selection committee for all of your excellent work, over months, to choose tonight’s winners -- and for your leadership of this Visionary Awards tribute. Mel, thank you for chairing for two years and I'm thrilled to announce our new co-chair for 2018 and 2019, a veteran committee member Joan Steele. I'd like to thank our always fantastic host Deborah Norville and our hardworking event chair, Pam Reeve. To make a nomination for 2018, please visit the WCD website and go to the Visionary Awards Nomination form. Nominations are open until July 15, 2017.

Thanks to KPMG for their support over the years especially Kapila Anand and Nancy Calderon – the directors of the WomenCorporateDirectors Foundation.

I's like to thank each of you for all being here and for your support over the years. That’s how we’re making a difference. Great companies, such as the Visionary Award winners, promote inclusion, candor, courage, and cohesion in the boardroom.

Tonight’s awardees illustrate how companies need to rejuvenate their boards to maintain their vibrancy and effectiveness.

For companies to compete successfully with everyone, everywhere, for everything, they need the best talent.

Corporate ocean liners turn very, very slowly. The percentage of women on Fortune 500 boards has gone from 11.7% in 2000 to slightly over 21% today.

While there hasn’t been a huge jump in 16-plus years, it is a growing movement. More significantly, several distinct trends bode well for an increase in women’s representation in the future, as well as a gain in younger board members.

  • Demand for specific board skills.
  • Movement away from sitting CEOs as the default board choice.
  • Drop in CEOs serving on outside boards.
  • Rise in qualified female candidates.
  • Growing push from diversity “allies.”

All of these shifts are opening the aperture for women seeking board seats: in fact, this past year, women accounted for 32% of new independent directors in the S&P 500. There are also more women helping each other, referring qualified candidates to CEOs and, if they get a call from a board that’s not a fit, making sure they refer another woman to the role.

With your help, WCD has grown from the few directors gathering in my apartment to the most powerful community of women corporate and private company directors in the world.

Globally, the market cap of the public companies on whose boards WCD members serve on is over 8 trillion dollars. If WCD was a country, we would be bested only by the United States and China. Next we hope to add another trillion dollars by surveying our private / family company members. Our 78 chapters are in 41 countries on 5 continents. Our over 3,500 members serve on over 8,500 boards and chapters hold over 300 educational events per year. We host four institutes around the world. WCD has enabled over 500 women to go on to public and private company boards, created the Thought Leadership Reports and the Harvard Business School / Spencer Stuart Surveys.

Just one recent example of WCD’s impact was our first Institute in Latin America, in Chile, this Spring. President Bachelet keynoted our conference. Beforehand, a top stock exchange executive called me and asked WCD to ring the opening bell. I replied that we couldn’t as the entire board was comprised of 11 white males. He called back a day later and asked that if the stock exchange made a commitment to add a woman, could we work together and open the exchange. Of course we did.

A month later, the first woman director, a WCD member, was added to the board of the Chile Stock Exchange.

Spencer Stuart is doing a great job in the search for my replacement. But, what the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.

So as part of my metamorphosis like to share a few thoughts on what I’ve learned while building WomenCorporateDirectors over the last 16 years.

  • Pay attention to those you need on your side, because “if you want their support on the landing, include them in the take off".
  • Status quo is Latin for the mess we’re in.
  • The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
  • When someone shows you their bad side. Believe them.
  • If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.
  • The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, it’s dangerous because of those who watch and do nothing.
  • On matters of style, swim with the current but on matters of principle stand like a rock.
  • There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing and be nothing.
  • Life is not about waiting for storms to pass… it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
  • If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.
  • The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
  • When something is important enough, you do it even if they odds are not in your favor.
  • Good things happen slowly, bad things happen fast.
  • Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.
  • If you don’t look facts in the face, they have a way of stabbing you in the back.
  • If you’re going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use two feet.
  • If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
  • Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.

In conclusion, organizations stay healthy when departing leaders fulfill their final responsibility, helping to prepare their successors for their own success.

I hope that you will join me, when the decision is made on my successor, to both welcome her and continue to all work together to increase the number of qualified women on corporate and private boards. We need to collaborate to accelerate. Very little of consequence is ever accomplished alone, but instead by joint effort. We all want to be useful and want to belong to something larger than ourselves. WCD has been a joint effort of members around the world. We want to continue that spirit in order to change the face of corporate governance.

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you and a very big thank you for what you have all achieved for women and for attending tonight. It’s been an honor to work with such an exceptional group of leaders and to move the needle. 

Thank you. God speed.

By Susan Stautberg

Add Morgan Stanley to the list of respected voices who've found that increased gender diversity in the boardroom is good for business. Morgan Stanley evaluated 1,600 companies against a comprehensive framework and found that companies scoring high on gender diversity experienced higher rates of profitability and growth, along with lower stock price volatility than companies scoring low on the scale. The findings were consistent with other studies that have found that gender diversity is beneficial to a company's overall performance.

Here are some of the ways I think women directors can help build stronger boards—and stronger companies.

  • Women bring fresh perspectives. Directors must understand the complex issues the company confronts. Women like looking at the big picture before making decisions. Because women—who are generally newer to boards—are less likely to have long-standing ideas about " the way things are done" on a board, they aren't limited to preconceived notions about what kind of impact a board can and can't have.
  • Women build trust. During tough times, board relationships can break down; when there are problems, it is very easy to start pointing the finger. Women on boards are particularly good at negotiating conflict and rebuilding bridges. 
  • Women tactfully ask important questions. Women can often raise topics in a way that listeners find less threatening, thereby making others more willing to be open; they ask the tough questions in a diplomatic and appropriate way. They also know how to disagree without being disagreeable. By the time a woman becomes a corporate director, she's learned the value of courage and candor--qualities needed when confronting an elephant in the room. 
  • Women are mentors. The executive chair of Frontier Communications and member of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise, DreamWorks Animation, Juno Therapeutics and Costco Wholesale Corporation boards, Maggie Wilderotter (who is also the co-chair of WomenCorporateDirectors' Global Nominating Commission), reports that every couple of years the four women on the Frontier board have a two-day retreat with senior and high-potential women in the company. In addition, all of the board members become mentors to C-level executives for a two-year period and see them three or four times a year outside of board meetings. This is a way for the board to get to know the talent in the organization. Then, when the board goes through the succession plan, each board member presents the executive with whom he or she worked. This helps the rest of the board get to know these executives and understand their capabilities and their potential. 

Women continue to hold just a small number of corporate board seats. Less than 18% in 2015, according to the 20/20 Women on Boards’ Gender Diversity Index of Fortune 1000 companies. Contrast this to the fact that women comprise about half of the total U.S. workforce; hold half of all management positions; are responsible for almost 80% of all consumer spending; and account for 10 million majority-owned, privately-held firms in the U.S.

It’s time that companies took advantage of this untapped pool of qualified board candidates.